Chapter Twenty-eight

When I woke up, someone was holding me in strong, warm arms. I tried to burrow closer and felt the embrace tighten. "Jo?"

I lifted my head and saw that it was David. We were sitting against a wall in a hallway, next to a giant brushed-steel vault door. I felt . . . empty. Clean, but empty. Exhausted and powerless.

I felt wrong.

He was stroking my hair gently, letting it curl around his fingers. Crap. Curly hair again. Something hadn't gone right . . .

"Easy," he murmured when I tried to get up. He rose to his feet, still holding me, and set me down on shaky legs. "Oh God, Jo. My God. You're alive."

Sara. Patrick. It had seemed so real, hurt so much ... I drew breath. It felt . . . wrong. Clumsy. Mechanical. "Maybe." Memory slammed back with a vengeance and flooded me with alarm. I turned to look inside the vault.

It couldn't have been the hours it had seemed, up there at the top of the world. It had been seconds, minutes at most.

The confrontation was still going on.

Lewis was still standing, but even as I watched he swayed and collapsed to his knees. The white burn of energy I'd seen him giving to the motionless, broken body of Kevin Prentiss was almost spent, just flickers now, pulsing in time with Lewis's labored heartbeat.

God, he was dying. I couldn't believe he'd held on so long, or that Yvette had let him . . . but then I saw the look on her face as she watched him, and I knew why she'd waited. He was suffering.

She liked that kind of thing too much to stop it prematurely.

Jonathan was more of an absence than a presence in the room-blank, stiff as a statue, no sense of the restless energy and power that had been as much a part of him as the sarcastic half-smile. Yvette could not be allowed to keep him. The damage she could do ...

"We have to do something," I said to David. He reached out, encountered the barrier, and slid his hand along it.

"I can't." His voice was rough and low in his throat; he hated being helpless, hated seeing Jonathan reduced to this.

I reached out, and my hand slid past his, into the barrier, through it without pause. I heard his intake of breath, but then I was committed, and I had to move. No time to think about things.

I threw myself forward, onto Yvette.

She was stronger than she looked, and softer. I'd caught her by surprise; she really hadn't believed any Djinn could get past that barrier. We hit the floor hard enough to make her scream and me gasp for breath, rolled, and fetched up in a tangle against some metal shelves that teetered precariously from the impact.

They were full of bottles.

Full of Djinn bottles.

Every one of them marked with a black seal.

These were the Djinn who'd been infected with Demon Marks, who'd been sealed away, never to be released again, because if a demon ever succeeded in taking over a Djinn, the power of that combination would be-Nobody even wanted to think about it.

It was the equivalent of a room full of nuclear bombs, rocking back and forth over our heads.

Yvette still held Jonathan's bottle, I hadn't succeeded in making her drop it. She opened her mouth to scream out a command. I punched her in the face, hard, felt my knuckles explode into white pain when they crushed her lips against her teeth.

"You," I panted, and punched her again, "don't say anything."

She was still trying to mumble a command. I grabbed her shirt, tore it, and stuffed the blood-spattered satin in her mouth.

Jonathan hadn't moved.

His bottle was clenched in her right fist. While she battered at me with her left, I grabbed hold and smashed her right hand painfully back into the metal shelves. I saw blood and didn't let that stop me. I did it again. Her fingers loosened.

I grabbed for the bottle, but she clung to it like an octopus. She yanked my hair hard enough to bring tears to my eyes, then spat the gag out of her mouth to yell, "I order you to-"

Panic gave me the strength of at least two, if not ten. I grabbed her right hand again, took hold of her index finger, and snapped it in two with a brisk, crackling sound.

She interrupted her command with a shriek.

The bottle rolled free. I grabbed for it, but she caught me with a wild swinging left hook, and tossed me off of her in a heap.

"Bitch!" she panted. Red blood drooled from her cut lip, and she looked savage, utterly crazed. "I'm going to make you suffer-"

She devolved into cursing, scrambled after the bottle. I tackled her and pulled her back.

Right about that time, Lewis collapsed face forward on the floor. He was still holding David's bottle. He flipped over on his back, stared blankly up at the light fixtures in the ceiling, and rolled over again to crawl his way toward the half-open door.

I saw Kevin's limp body take in a shuddering, unaided breath.

He raised his head, and I was frozen by what I saw in his eyes ... It was confused, painful and full of rage.

Lewis had healed him. What that had cost I couldn't imagine ... to Lewis, or to Kevin. The fury in the kid was like nothing sane.

He lunged forward at the same time as Yvette for Jonathan's bottle, and got there first.

I saw the shift in Jonathan instantly as his loyalty shifted from mother to son.

Yvette pushed herself away and got to her feet, backing up as far as the room would let her. Kevin and Jonathan were between her and the door.

"Don't," she said, and wiped blood from her face with the back of her hand. "Sweetie, don't do this. You know you don't want to-"

"You," Kevin said tightly, and looked at Jonathan. "Kill Yvette. Now."

Jonathan didn't hesitate. He leaped like a cat, cleared me as I rolled into a ball and covered myself, and on the way formed steel-hard claws from the tips of his fingers.

I felt a hot spray of blood on my face, and gagged on the taste. Oh God, oh God . . . not that she hadn't deserved it, but . . .

Kevin was watching his stepmother die with a blank, intense stare. When it was over, when the blood stopped and Jonathan stepped back with the claws red-misting away, Kevin transferred that stare to me.

God, those eyes. So empty. It was like looking into a grave.

"You left me," he said. "I told you to come back. I screamed for you."

I didn't dare answer. Or move.

"You said you wouldn't let anything happen to me," he whispered. "I don't like liars."

He had my bottle. He dug it out of his pocket and held it in his left hand-such a small thing, to rule everything about me, life and death-and smiled at me and said, "I want you to burn. Burn yourself alive. Burn until I get tired of hearing you scream."

I felt a flash of pure, nauseating fear, waited for the compulsion to take over, but . . .

. . . nothing happened.

I slowly uncoiled from my protective ball. Kevin looked furious. "Did you hear me? I said burn, you bitch!"

I got up, flexed my right hand. It hurt. There were cuts in my skin from Yvette's teeth when I'd punched her.

"Sorry," I said, with a kind of slow wonder. "Don't think that works anymore."

I looked up and saw David's face touched by the same sense of intense, odd awareness.

"You're alive," he whispered. "You're . . . human."

And then his expression changed to utter horror, and he started to batter at the barrier between us.

I was human, and I was trapped in here with Kevin and the most powerful Djinn in the universe, who was completely under Kevin's control.

Trapped with a kid who'd just killed his stepmother without blinking.

Kevin echoed David's whisper. "Human?" I didn't like the hard, wet shine in his eyes. "Good. Maybe you can hurt the way you let me hurt."

Lewis crawled over the threshold of the barrier, dragging David's bottle with him. David reached down and pulled him out of the way, crouched down and exchanged a look with him.

They both looked at me.

Lewis drew in a painful, hitching breath, and said, "Do whatever you have to do, David, but get her out of here. Do it now."

David blew through the barrier like it wasn't even there, slammed into Kevin from behind and sent him flying. Kevin, off balance, tripped over Yvette's bloody corpse and into the rows of shelves that were still trembling from their last hard slam.

They tipped.

Black-sealed bottles fell. Some broke, hitting metal edges or each other, and even though I couldn't see any Djinn I could feel them, swirling like a hot wet storm in the room.

David grabbed me. He pulled me past Kevin, who was still squirming to get up. I tried to slow down, because I had the opportunity to grab Jonathan's bottle, but David's imperative was clear. Get me out. Don't stop for anything.

He shoved me forward, and I passed the barrier just a heartbeat ahead of him.

That was enough. His command was fulfilled, and the barrier slammed in place, knocking him backward. I reached out and touched him, but I couldn't pull him through, couldn't drag him to safety . . .

Kevin rolled over, still clutching Jonathan's bottle, and yelled, "You! Kill him!"

"David, come here!" Lewis yelled, virtually at the same second. The barrier dissolved. David lunged through.

Jonathan grabbed, and missed.

Something was happening inside the vault. I couldn't see it, not with human eyes, but when I used Oversight it looked like hell in there-tortured, writhing bodies, Djinn fighting each other on the aetheric, Kevin and Jonathan blazing like a white star in the center. I felt a chill of premonition and turned to Lewis, who was propped against the wall, looking worse than I'd ever seen him.

"I can't," he whispered, even though I hadn't asked. "I've got nothing."

If he had nothing left, David had nothing. We all watched as the black-sealed Djinn, free of their captivity, started manifesting in the real world.

Nightmares. They looked horribly disfigured, half demon, and they made a terrible sawing noise like metal tearing. Screams. A kind of scream I never wanted to hear again.

"Get out of there!" I blurted, and held out my hand to Kevin. "You have to get out, Kevin! Please! You don't know what you're doing!"

He could have. All he had to do was walk two feet forward, take my hand. Make the choice.

There was such a horror of devastation in his eyes. A dawning awareness that what he'd done had consequences, had a kind of history that was never going to let him go. Sin is like a stalker- you may learn to ignore it, but you can never hide from it.

He took one step, stopped, and gave me the emptiest smile I had ever seen. He said, "Concerned about me now? Too late, Joanne. I'm not gonna be anybody's bitch anymore. Not hers, not yours . . . I'm gonna have power. So much power none of you can do anything to stop me."

He looked past me, to Lewis. "You're that guy. The one she was so afraid of. The one with the big mojo."

Lewis didn't blink. "Maybe."

"Huh." Kevin swept him up and down with a look. "No shit. Thanks, man. For saving my life."

"You didn't have to pay me back by killing her."

Kevin's face flushed a dull, mutinous red. "You don't know anything about it." He turned to Jonathan. "Can you get me out of here?"

Jonathan's eyebrows quirked over his empty stare. "Where do you want to go?"

"Anywhere." Kevin, under the stress of the moment, was forgetting the rules. He looked at Jonathan, who stared back, waiting. "Anywhere but here!"

"You have to be specific," Jonathan said. And, as Kevin's mouth started to shape something-something I was pretty sure would have been home-Jonathan said, "Might as well make it someplace fun. Disneyworld. Las Vegas. Something-"

"Vegas!" Kevin crowed. He looked pleased with himself for seizing on it. "Hell yeah. Definitely Vegas."

Jonathan, I thought, what the hell are you doing? He could have detailed the kid to death, could have asked him to define his designation down to a few square inches of ground, but I could see that he'd gotten what he wanted. "You have to order me," he reminded.

"Oh, right. Uh, take me to Las Vegas-Wait!" Kevin threw up a hand. "What the hell are these things?"

He was looking at the barely visible Djinn swirling in the air. Jonathan didn't shift his gaze. Probably didn't want to look at them for long. I wouldn't have.

"Djinn," he said. "They're sick."

"Yeah? Fuck me. Well, let them go, they're creeping me out."

"No!" I yelled, and lunged forward. Too late. The barrier holding the Djinn back popped with an almost physical sensation, and the infected, tormented Djinn vanished. Kevin looked around the vault art all of the bottles lining the shelves. The ones on the right were all sizes and shapes, unsealed; the ones on the left were marked in black with the glyph that signified a demon infestation.

He grabbed some of the black-sealed bottles and stuffed them into his baggy pants pockets. "Let's go," he said to Jonathan. "Vegas. Move your ass."

Lewis said, very grimly, "David, stop them from leaving."

I was looking at David when he said it, and I saw the flicker of agony that crossed his face; Lewis didn't know what he'd just asked him to do. Fight Jonathan. Fight someone he had loved and respected for a thousand years or more.

Someone he knew he couldn't beat.


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